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Just a few steps from the bustling Marina Bay Complex, where the Neponset River meets Boston Harbor, is a slice of nature with a fascinating backstory. Bob Damon is the Director of Historic & Heritage Resources for the city of Quincy, MA, and a font of historical knowledge, and he gave me a tour of Squantum Point Park, a coastal peninsula that has seen a lot of changes over the past 400 years.
Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Squantum Point served as the summer home of the Neponset tribe, as it was rich in fish and shellfish, and provided ready access to the Boston Harbor Islands. Beginning in the mid- to late 1600s, the peninsula was used for farming and fishing.
In the early 20th Century, airstrips were built on Squantum Point to accommodate aerodromes in which aviators showed off their skills to the delight of spectators. One competition had pilots fly out to Boston Light and back to Squantum Point.
A few of these early aviators were women, including the celebrated Harriett Quimby, who would often take wealthy patrons for flights over Boston Harbor. Tragedy struck in 1912 on a flight at Squantum Point with William Willard. At an altitude of 1,000 feet, the plane suddenly pitched forward, ejecting Quimby and Willard, both of whom died in the fall. The aerodrome events ceased following Quimby’s accident.
From 1917 to 1953, the airfield served as a Naval air-training base and air base. After that, the grounds sat largely unused, gradually reverting back to meadow and scrubland. Squantum Point Park, which is managed by the Massachusetts Division of Parks and Recreation, was officially opened in 2001, and now serves as a place where people can exercise, enjoy a respite from urban life, go fishing, walk their dog, and birdwatch. Granite plaques along the paths tell the story of the park’s past.